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Bengals at Ravens game preview: Poetic Justice

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The Cincinnati Bengals are huge underdogs as they head to Baltimore this week. Could they conjure up some familiar magic they’ve used against the Ravens before to get their first win of 2019?

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a tough “dey” to be a Bengals fan.

For months, this team sold the idea that, despite a coaching overhaul, this was a squad prepared to make an immediate playoff run in 2019. There were questions, but talent at the skill positions and a fresh approach from these coaches were supposed to reinvigorate everyone.

Here we are a month and a half without a regular-season win and long-term questions abound. “Who Dey?!” and “New Dey” have turned to blase and “Groundhog Day”.

Every fear that blossomed about the team’s 2019 viability has come to fruition at the kickoff of the Zac Taylor era. The offensive line and linebacker groups have been the team’s predictable Achilles Heel, while the amount and severity of injuries to important players have been downright laughable.

As if Taylor and his staff didn’t have enough of a hill to climb with those factors, inexperience has reared its ugly head. Taylor, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan had only previously topped out as interim coordinators in the NFL, but they’ve been learning on the fly through the first five weeks.

Taylor’s greenness was glaringly obvious last week, as he placed the team in precarious positions with his decisions. A questionable fourth-down attempt and play-call in Week 5 aside, Cincinnati’s red zone incompetency is reaching Scott Mitchell-esque levels.

Even through the injuries and coaching gaffes, Cincinnati is nine points away from being 3-2. As it so happens, that is the record of the AFC North-leading Ravens, who host these Bengals on Sunday.

Cincinnati is looking up to the other three teams from the cellar, but this division still appears to be wide open. Though the Bengals were stomped by Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, the Steelers are missing a number of offensive mainstays this year and it shows in the form of their 1-4 record.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns were crowned Super Bowl champs before a preseason snap was even taken and are teetering on the brink of implosion. If Taylor’s inexperience has been noted, then Freddie Kitchens has been the captain of that ship.

And now, Cincinnati can be within two games of the division lead with 12 games remaining at 1-5. They seem to have A.J. Green returning soon, along with others, which could result in a late-season momentum swing. After all, Marvin Lewis had the Bengals knocking at door of a playoff berth in his inaugural season after starting 1-4, so...

Yeah.

That can’t be how Cincinnati approaches this week, though. It’s about what’s right in front of them and finding something to build upon for the rest of 2019 and into next season.

Last year after Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback, Baltimore employed an offense that resembled what could be seen on Friday nights at the local prep academy. Even so, they gouged the Bengals’ defense in Week 11 to the tune of 267 rushing yards.

In 2019, the Ravens have upped their offensive game plan and confidence in Jackson, which has led to their top-dog position in the North. Jackson has developed as a passer, tossing 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Mark Ingram has been a solid offseason acquisition, as he’s averaged 5.0 yards per carry and six touchdowns on the ground to supplement the multi-dimensional talents of Jackson. Earl Thomas has also been a nice addition, as the team is 1-1 against their division rivals thus far.

Interestingly enough, the Ravens’ trademark defense hasn’t been the dominant unit in which the league has become accustomed. Baltimore is a pedestrian No. 21 overall in defense, including a No. 28 ranking against the pass and 10th against the run.

On the other side of the fence, most of the Bengals’ star players who have killed the Ravens over the years are out this week. Cordy Glenn, A.J. Green and Carlos Dunlap are all out this week, contributing to the continuous woes on both sides of the ball in 2019.

Because of these absences and others, Andy Dalton has had an up-and-down year. In true Dalton-ian fashion, we’ve seen No. 14 reach a career-high in single game passing yards (418 in Week 1 versus the Seahawks), as well as a career-low in first half passing yards against the Cardinals last Sunday (22).

Some are calling for Ryan Finley to get looks, as the season seems to be lost, but this is a year where the Bengals are evaluating Dalton’s long-term viability in Taylor’s system. A strong performance against the Ravens, including a win, could go a long way in silencing the critics.

Even so, Cincinnati will need to find offensive balance. The Bengals have the 31st-ranked rushing attack this year, which is a bit surprising, given Joe Mixon being the AFC leader in rushing yards last year.

But, the Bengals found creases last week, as Mixon had his most rushing yards (93) since Week 17 of last year. He’ll need to have some semblance of success this Sunday, if Cincinnati is to have a snowball’s chance in you-know-where.

There really isn’t one facet that points to the Bengals this week, hence their being 12-point underdogs. It’s so grim in Cincinnati that they’re down to their fourth and fifth options at left tackle (Alex Redmond and John Jerry—both guards throughout their respective NFL careers) and even the kicking game disparity shows a massive talent chasm between the two teams this year.

Coming into this week, Cincinnati is 2-14 over their last 16 contests. So, unfortunately, there appear to be two groups of unhappy folks this week: those who associate with the Bengals and those who put money on the Ravens to cover the spread.

Bengals 20, Ravens 31

AC — Getting worse before getting better.